The Story Behind The Story
Both Jimmy Knight and Harrell Slaughter have departed this life. Mr. Slaughter's passing on June 8th, 1997 at the age of eighty-seven, made an un-fallible gap in the record of our city's history. Much information went with him.
Jacksonville, Florida once had several theatres that boasted Mighty Wurlitzers. One was the Arcade Theatre, later known as the Centre Theatre. Another was the Riverside Theatre. Then there was, of course, the Florida Theatre. All these instruments, if you'll pardon the pun, are now “gone with their wind.” When the Florida Theatre was reclaimed, restoration stopped short of complete, in my, and many other's opinion, by the failure to reinstall a Theatre Organ in the building, as should be.
As a youngster I knew Jimmy Knight only from afar. To this child, he was a powerful icon of musical achievement. My mother used to tell me stories of the happy times she had as a girl listening to Mr. Knight play the Wurlitzer Pipe Organ in the Florida Theatre during the mid/late thirties. Mr. Harrell Slaughter, being an accomplished amateur organist, substituted at the console for Mr. Knight on occasion.
When I was a young teen Mr. Knight became, for a short time, the organist at the Main Street Baptist Church, which we were then attending. He was gracious and patient, explaining a great deal about the pipe organ to this organ crazy kid. Later, he played dining and dancing music on the Hammond electric organ at the beautiful Le Chateau Restaurant at the beaches. I much later succeeded him there as the organist in the dining room.
I became friends with Mr. Slaughter only after joining the North Florida Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society. His gracious and lovely wife, Josephine, was in poor health, and he was not doing well, either. Nevertheless, he lovingly took care of her and found time to be an enthusiastic supporter of our ATOS chapter. He hosted us on occasion to hear and play his Allen Theatre Organ in his comfortable Westside home on the Ortega River.
After an unfortunate accident, Harrell found it impossible to care for Josephine on his own and he felt the need to move both of them into a health care facility. As a result, he had to sell his house and furnishings. Harrell was most distressed to have to let his beautiful Allen Theatre Organ go. He offered to sell it to me if I would give it a good home, which I did.
Though it is wholly a work of fiction, many of the stories in “The Glorious Sound” were inspired by his own accounts of his and Mr. Knight's boyhood experiences in the Riverside area of Jacksonville, Florida. I regret not being able to interview him further about that fleeting era of the Theatre Pipe Organ in Jacksonville. I shall have to wait to hear the rest of his stories at another time, in another place.
Gene Stroble, April 2002
Another who contributed vital historic background to the telling of this story was Elmer OSteen. A fine man, much loved by many, and a personal encouragement to me. He loved his Lord, his family, his country, and the Theatre Organ.
He was a founder and leader of our local North Jacksonville ATOS Chapter, and he kept us together when it seemed we would just fade away. He was a major source of information about the Theatre Organ era here in Jacksonville, FL, which was a favorite topic of our personal conversations, much of which found it's way into the netnovelet "The Glorious Sound." He was 99 years old at his passing, and he will be sorely missed.
Gene Stroble, December 2012